Top 7 Reasons Satoru Iwata Is Unforgettable

3. His Nintendo took more risks than ever

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Iwata took over Nintendo in 2002 with the Game Boy Advance doing well and the GameCube struggling to compete with the PS2 and Xbox. When Iwata revealed the first two consoles under his leadership, both were met with skepticism and even outright derision by the gaming industry. In the face of the PSP’s powerful hardware, a dual screened handheld looked like a silly experiment doomed to fail. With the 360’s hardcore cred and the PS3’s heavily touted abilities, Nintendo’s motion-controlled Wii seemed doomed for third place and was decried by many as ‘two GameCube’s ducttaped together’.

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And it was Iwata’s unexpected moves that lead to Nintendo’s most profitable years ever. The Wii and DS outsold the competition by leaps and bounds, introducing millions of people to gaming who never played before. Those systems, (alongside games like Wii Sports, Nintendogs, Wii Fit, and Brain Training) all ventured outside gaming’s niches and found whole new worlds. Even when Iwata’s initiatives didn’t work, like the faltering Wii U, it always felt like the company was just another calculated risk away from conquering gaming again. It makes you wonder just what Iwata had planned for NX, and if that system will change the way people see the company all over again.

2. He changed Nintendo in so many ways

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Satoru Iwata talked up Nintendo’s history so often, making most of his announcements and reveals seem to fit within the company’s long legacy. It was a smart move, but Iwata was changing the company in many ways that people never noticed. Not only did he remove the company from the escalating graphical arms race between PlayStation and Microsoft, as well as the pissing contest E3’s press conferences became, he worked from within to redefine Nintendo as a whole.

Even though some feel Nintendo makes too many sequels, he oversaw the creation of so many new franchises. When Nintendo got lambasted for falling behind the competition, it avoided the console wars by redefining them to the point that Sony and Xbox would copy all their success just four years later. He opened up the formerly secretive company so gradually that even reporters like myself didn’t even notice. Without ostentation or bluster, he transformed a gaming giant without many realizing it, and it makes you wonder just how many more changes he had in store for the company.

1. He’s been a bigger part of your life as a gamer than you’ll ever realize

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Perhaps it has to do with his modesty, but in life we never really knew enough about Satoru Iwata’s life pre-Nintendo presidency. Within the Japanese development community he was known as an extraordinary programmer before he even arrived at HAL, the company he’d later run. He programmed all of Balloon Fight for the NES by himself, and would go on to have a hand in creating Kirby, And in the days that followed his passing, so many more stories came out that revealed he touched the lives of gamers in ways no one knew.

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Iwata’s programming expertise saved the development of Earthbound, making him a lifelong friend of creator Shigesato Itoi. Iwata made it possible to include the Kanto region in Pokemon Gold and Silver. He made sure that Smash Bros. Melee shipped within time for holiday 2001. He greatly improved the NES release of Dragon Quest. He was an inspiration to so, so many developers, and I’m betting that in the weeks and months and years to come, we’ll find out dozens of other ways Iwata touched our favorite games without us ever realizing it.

In life, Satoru Iwata was a man dedicated to making great games. His commitment and respect for the medium shined through in everything he did, and only now, with him gone, do we realize just what we’re going to miss in his shocking exit. But, if there’s anything we can take from this tragic (and far too early) death, it’s that we can now truly see what a life he lived.

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Image via verna-c

13 thoughts on “Top 7 Reasons Satoru Iwata Is Unforgettable

  1. Truly sad to read this. He definitely turned Nintendo into a company that always brought the best first party games to life and the company that was always willing to be weird and take risks. I hope they keep his spirit alive in their future endeavors.

  2. A beautiful tribute, Hank.

    Mr. Iwata was inherently tied to my love of Nintendo and my love of games. I’ll always cherish the joy he brought to me and to many others. #NowIUnderstand

  3. Thank you so much for not using Japanese honorifics in this article. If I hear one more person say ‘Iwata-san’ this week I’m going to jump out a window. I wish I had anything more to say, but I’ve never touched anything Nintendo related in my life, so I’m a bit disconnected, but the news hurts all the same.

  4. Fantastic list Hank. I have a question for you though. How much do you think this is going to change Nintendo? I know many internet people have called for his head over the years but I’ve always felt like he was one of the few things keeping Nintendo from being taken over by those horrible, clueless investors. Are we looking at Nintendo going the route of Konami or are we safe for a while longer?

    At this point, I’m thinking the rumour of Disney buying Marvel might not be such a bad thing after all. Much better than leaving Nintendo to be torn apart by shareholders who have never played a videogame and have no idea what Nintendo really is.

  5. Nintendo has helped me through a time in my life of lonliness and depression. And Mr. Iwata was Nintendo personified. When I heard Mr. Iwata passed away I didnt understand why it hurt so much and why i was crying. This list helped me understand a little bit more. Thank you Mr. Iwata and thank you Henry for putting this tribute togrther.

  6. I’m really dreading how Nintendo may turn out at this rate… but I should be mournful, not fearful. Iwata at least did as much as he could and lived his too-short life to the fullest. The impact he made on games was beyond remarkable, and while I normally feel the word “visionary” sounds horribly pretentious, I have no hesitation in having considered Iwata to be a visionary. Henry, excellent job honoring one of gamekind’s brightest stars. I hope this hasn’t brought down your Vegas trip too much, but writing’s a good way to work through your feelings.

  7. Thanks for the article, the sense of fun he conveyed alone is notable. Sometimes I see too many developers let alone executives act restrained. Iwata on the other hand was open, friendly and engaged, something very few companies do period. He had this down perfectly. Even when Nintendo were not doing their best, at least I knew that there were people who cared within the company.

    Rest in peace Satoru Iwata.

  8. yeah, my roommate broke the news to me just as I was coming in from work Monday morning and then ran down his long history of his time on the programming side of things. He did so much to maintain and tighten the iconic nature of that company, I really wish he could have had more time with us to do so much more for the future off gaming. Hopefully he’s inspired other gamers, programmers, and future high level execs.
    I have no doubts Nintendo will soldier on, but they’ve lost a bit of special, character in Iwata’s passing.

  9. Dammit Hank, you’re making me sad again. Far, far too young and sudden a death for such a great guy. One of the best, if not the best, presidents of any major company you can name.

    Sniff.

  10. The news made my Sunday really sad. How many CEOs of international corporations can you say have this kind of connection with so many people?
    Directs will never be the same again.

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